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10 Best Martial Arts For Women – Most Effective in Real Life

In this day and age, there is a rising trend of women joining martial arts classes for various benefits. Whether it’s for fitness and weight loss, or learning self-defense, women are more than present in the martial art world. If you are one of many women looking to join the classes, be sure to read this article.

The list we have put together below consists of only the best martial arts specific to women. I have done deep research to find only the best martial arts that give you the best chance in self-defense situations. The list we compiled includes arts that focus on leverage and techniques, which means that you don’t have to be strong or physically big to master them as a woman.

Now, let’s go through each art below, and hopefully, I can help you in finding one that suits you the best.

10. Jeet Kun do

Jeet Kun Do (JKD) is a combat system founded by the famous actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee. Back in the 1960s, Lee was the first one to mix techniques from various grappling, striking, and weapon-based arts into one style of fighting. He took only the best and most effective techniques that all work in real life from:

  • Judo
  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Jujutsu
  • Wing Chun

JKD might be perfect for women since its techniques are simple, direct, and very good for various self-defense scenarios. Although it is a versatile style, you won’t have a hard time picking up the basics, or learn how to carry out the moves the right way. And it even doesn’t matter how old or athletic you are, all women can benefit from Jeet Kun Do training.

“The idea of intercepting is key to JKD, whether it be the interception of your opponent’s technique or his intent. The basic guiding principles are: Simplicity, Directness and Freedom (the form of no form).”


The entire art revolves around intercepting the attacks with fast counters. The emphasis is on speed, timing and economy of motion so that you can deliver fast and powerful strikes. You will learn proper stances, footwork, blocks, punches, kicks, and how to fight in all ranges. In some schools students also learn how to target sensitive points like eyes, throat, solar plexus, or groin area.

9. Sambo 

Sambo is a Russian combat system that is among the most underrated martial arts. Sambo as a concept is great for women who want to learn self-defense because it is an all-around system. But before you join the classes, bear in mind that there are two styles of Sambo:

  • Sport sambo— focuses just on grappling and ground fighting without any striking. It is a mix of Judo, and wrestling techniques into one style. Students learn various throws, takedowns, and submissions. Once the fight hits the ground, the emphasis is on finishing the fight with joint locks, notably leg locks while chokeholds are not allowed.
  • Combat Sambo– is a military version that includes both grappling and striking. To some extent, it is very much like modern MMA where fighters can mix striking and grappling together.

Women who want to learn self-defense won’t make a mistake by choosing Sambo. The only downside is that Sambo is still a new thing in the western world and you might have a hard time finding a good school to train in.

8. Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that falls into a group of modern martial arts. It is famous for putting a lot of emphasis on kicks, since the founders believed that kicks are the longest and most powerful weapon. And kicks also bring you the most points in the competition. But most schools will also teach you the basics of punching and blocks.

There are many reasons why women should train in Taekwondo. First, training will make you flexible and improve core strength in a very short time span. This helps you carry out the techniques better, and is crucial for the overall health as well. And second, it teaches you how to execute fast and powerful kicks from all ranges. Even if you are facing a stronger opponent, a single well-placed kick to the liver, groin or head can easily win you a fight.

I have to bring up that some traditional schools of Taekwondo teach various other self-defense tactics. You might learn how to use elbows and knees, the basics of grappling, or even dirty tactics.

7. Karate

Karate is, perhaps, the most popular martial art that is well spread all around the world. It is great for women because it focuses on movement, quick attacks, and fast and precise striking. You don’t have to be too strong or athletic to master karate. Here are the three most popular karate forms:

  • Shotokan
  • Goju-Ryu
  • Kyokushin

Don’t let this confuse you. All three styles teach solid self-defense skills that might help you get out of trouble. Each form focuses on mixing punches and kicks, and some might teach you how to throw elbows as well. But in my view, Shotokan is an ideal option for women, and here is why.

Shotokan focuses on constant movement and blitz attacks. You will learn how to move in and out fast to do damage without being hit back. The power of the strikes is not that important as the focus is on speed and precision. This is ideal for women because they can use speed to overwhelm the attacker with a high output of precise strikes, and mobility to stay at a safe range. 

6. Boxing

Boxing is one of the oldest martial arts and a very popular choice among ladies. Although it is a very popular sport, boxing will teach you all about real fighting and self-defense. Not a single martial art teaches better footwork, head movement, and how to throw punches better than boxing does. These skills play a key role in any type of fighting scenario you may face.

One of the reasons why boxing is popular among women is the fact that it’s not that hard to master. Boxing is not that versatile as its fighters use only their hands to strike. It won’t take much time for you to learn a proper stance and how to throw basic combos. Of course, boxing becomes a small science as you go further into the pro-competition. But for self-defense, it is not that challenging to master.

Boxing is a bit limited as it teaches you how to strike with hands only. Some people think it won’t help a woman against a male attacker, for instance, as most ladies don’t have big punching power. Still, a mix of proper boxing technique, speed, and a bit of power is often enough to do damage and back off the attacker. A broken nose or jaw can quickly change the course of the fight, and destroy the confidence of the attacker. 

And let’s not forget some key boxing tools like head movement and footwork. Once a person starts throwing strikes at you, you will know how to slip/dodge them, change angles, and fight back with strikes or buy some time to run away. Having good head movement is crucial in a street fight where people tend to swing wild punches without proper technique, which you can all avoid with a few boxing skills. 

5. Judo 

Judo is one of the best grappling arts and a great option for all women who want to learn self-defense. It focuses entirely on grappling and doesn’t include any striking at all. The goal in Judo is to secure a strong grip, use the opponent’s weight against them to throw them off balance, and take them down. Once the fight hits the ground, judokas will subdue the opponent using various pins, joint locks like leg or wrist locks.

Every woman should have at least basic judo skills as it really pays off in a self-defense scenario. This is because street fighting is not a pro match where we have two skilled athletes fighting under the rules. No, most street fights are chaotic brawls at close range that include a lot of grabbing and pulling. And these types of hand-to-hand combat action are where judo shines.

Once the fight breaks out, Judo teaches you not to panic, get a hold of the attacker and secure a strong grip. This stops the attacker from swinging hard strikes at you and allows you to execute various trips and throws. It really doesn’t matter if the opponent is a man or another woman since most average people don’t know how to defend against Judo moves. It is ideal for situations where you don’t have much space to maneuver like in a bar.  

4. Muay Thai 

At first, Muay Thai might not sound like a good martial art for women, as it looks brutal on TV. But in modern days, Muay Thai classes are adapted to the modern lifestyle, and very safe to train in. If you are a woman, there’s no better place to learn how to strike and lose weight than the Muay Thai gym.

Muay Thai is, perhaps, the best striking art that teaches you all about how to use all limbs as weapons to fight at all ranges. You will learn how to throw boxing combos, hard kicks, and fight in the clinch using elbows and knees. The focus is on fighting at distance using kicks, and at close range in the clinch.

It is good for women because it trains them to throw each strike with a lot of power and violent intention. It is notably effective in the clinch which is good because most street fights are close-range brawls. If a person gets in your face for instance or grabs you on the shoulder, Thai boxing trains you to use this to unload with the barrage of elbows and knees. Even if the opponent is a bigger man, elbows, knees and kicks can inflict a lot of pain.  

On top of that, Muay Thai training is cardio-intense and burns up to 1000 calories per hour. If you stick with the classes, expect to get in top shape in a very short period of time.

3. MMA

MMA (mixed martial arts) is the most versatile fighting style on this list. It is great for women because it trains you to use your entire body as a weapon to fight at all places. MMA teaches you how to fight in the standup using strikes, grapple, or fight on the ground. This is the reason why MMA is often seen as a sport closest to street fighting, which makes it close to ideal for self-defense.

As its name suggests, MMA is a mix of techniques from various grappling and striking arts put into one style of fighting. The best thing about it is that includes only the battle-proven techniques that work in real life as well. You won’t spend second learning any fake moves or techniques in MMA.

No single martial art prepares you against different styles of fighting. However MMA students spend time cross-training between the following four martial arts to prepare for different types of fighting styles:

  • Muay Thai (striking, standup)
  • Boxing (striking, standup)
  • Wrestling (grappling)
  • BJJ (grappling, ground fighting)

Although it won’t teach you how to deal with weapons or dirty tactics, MMA is still among the best arts for self-defense. It will make you an all-around fighter and confident wherever the fight takes place. Whether it’s a fight on the feet, on the ground, in a small room, or parking lot, MMA teaches you how to defend against any type of attack.

2. Krav Maga

Founded by the Israeli military, Krav Maga is very good for women as it focuses entirely on self-defense. Krav Maga trains you to fight in various environments, against one or more opponents, and with or without weapons. The main goal of training is to prepare a person for any combat scenario they may face in real life, including warzones.

The main goal is to attack in a blitz, do as much damage as possible, and run away from danger. Students learn various punches, kicks, as well as how to apply or defend against dirty tactics and weapons. There are no rules in street fighting and dirty tactics like groin strikes could save your life.

Krav Maga also touches on how to keep your mind calm and always be aware of the environment you are in. You will train your mind to spot the danger, analyze the situation and make rational decisions. If you are in a bar, for instance, and there is a bottle next to you, Krav Maga teaches you to grab it and blast the attacker with it.

This is what makes Krav Maga better than most other arts on this list. It won’t teach you how to fight in the ring or octagon, against one person, and under the rules. No, it is designed for real life and that’s what makes it perfect for any woman out there. The only downside is the fact that Krav Maga training is really intense, and not for anyone. But you should, at least, try it.

1. Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Photo by Richard Presley

BJJ is the most ideal martial art for women, and it’s really hard to argue against that. It is one of the arts with the lowest injury rate, most effective for self-defense. It is the only art that is so effective that even a small person can learn to defeat a stronger and bigger opponent.

BJJ is an art that focuses entirely on grappling and ground fighting. It doesn’t include any striking which is the reason why the rate of injuries is really low. Strikes and the force of impact are the cause of most injuries in training. BJJ is not 100% safe by any means, but rolling on the ground is much safer than trading punches. And this is one of the reasons why so many women are joining BJJ classes.

BJJ has its origins in Judo and will teach you how to secure a strong grip, and execute a throw to take the opponent down. The main goal is to do this as fast as possible since the emphasis of the art is on ground fighting and using various positions, escapes, joint locks, and chokes to beat the opponent.

This is ideal for women because you don’t have to be strong or athletic to take the opponent down or submit them. No, the focus is on leverage and technique. Even if the opponent is bigger, they will have a hard time defending because sheer power won’t help them much against BJJ moves. 

BJJ skills keep you safe even if the attacker manages to take you down, which often happens when a man attacks a woman. You will know how to fight off your back using various joints locks, escapes and sweeps. But still, bigger and stronger attackers would most likely have a hard time keeping you on the bottom or defending against your submissions as most people do not know how to fight on the ground.

If you want to learn more about why BJJ is the best martial art for women, click here to find out 10 Most Compelling Reasons Why Women Should Learn BJJ.

Related Questions

What is the best martial art for a petite woman?

Petite women have more than one option when it comes to self-defense training. In fact, some of the very best fighting systems like Krav Maga and BJJ are ideal options for petite women.

Krav Maga is often seen as the best fighting system for self-defense that is still used by the Israeli military. It is great for women of all sizes as it teaches you how to fight according to your strengths and weaknesses. Krav Maga teaches you how to always use your strengths in a fight, which in the case of petite women are speed and mobility.

BJJ might be even better as it is the only fighting system that allows a smaller person to beat a bigger attacker. The main focus of BJJ is on leverage and techniques that a person can’t defend against relying just on their strength. Despite being small, you can still win a fight with chokes, joint locks, or throws. Even if the attacker takes you down, BJJ teaches you how to fight off your back, and its techniques work against people of all sizes, genders, or ages.